All posts by Deardra Shuler

Deardra Shuler has experience in theatre, music, concert promotion, television and publishing. She was affiliated with the Negro Ensemble Company and is a former manager of the children’s theatre,”TADA.” She has produced and promoted concerts in Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall. Ms. Shuler is the former Editor and Managing Editor of three New York City minority newspapers. Presently, she is the Entertainment Editor of The Black Star News. As a freelance writer she writes for several New York City newspapers; including the Examiner, Amsterdam News and Eurweb. Deardra has columns in Sweden and in California. She is the former PR chairman for the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa, and is presently program manager for where she also hosts her own show "Topically Yours."
mj impersonator jeffrey perezat

People of Note: RossLive Entertainment Brings Michael Jackson Tribute to the Stage

Producer Darrin Ross, Choreographer LaVelle Smith, Jr

Producer Darrin Ross, Choreographer LaVelle Smith, Jr

*Producer and creator of “Invincible: A Glorious Tribute to Michael Jackson,” Darrin Ross, and MJ long-time choreographer LaValle Smith, Jr., took time to join me to discuss their tribute show to MJ that will be featured at NJPAC, located at 1 Center Street, in Newark, NJ, on Saturday, June 13 at 8:00 PM, and then on Friday, June 19th at 7:00 PM at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.

Darrin Ross has been in the entertainment industry since 1985.  His career started with Jam On Productions.   He then did national TV with Dance Party USA and 1 House St. He went on to form IQ Records with a partner in 1992.  Darrin established a hip hop dance company entitled the Rennie Harris PureMovement wherein they created a hip hop version of Romeo and Juliet called Rome and Jewel which became the longest touring theater show in the history of theater. Ross was awarded the Bessie Award for Sound Design and Composition for Rome & Jewel.  He later worked with dancer Judith Jamison, Robert Battle and Stevie Wonder on a ballet love story and with Judith on her ballet “Reminiscence.”  In 2009 Ross created “Champion of the Dance” which eventually led to creating “Invincible.”

“My mother took me to see MJ’s Victory Tour as a kid.  I became a life-long fan of MJ’s work,” recalled Ross. “Through “Invincible,” I am recreating the feeling I felt as a teen after watching Michael on stage. I want the audience to feel the same excitement I felt in seeing Michael for the first time.  Therefore, I work hard to bring Michael’s songs and dances current so an entire new generation of fans can appreciate Michael’s legacy. We look for the best individuals who we feel fit the RossLive Entertainment brand.  Everyone has been positive and enthusiastic, so I have been able to create a great MJ impersonator community,” continued Darrin.

New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and World Famous Apollo Theater

New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and World Famous Apollo Theater

Presently Ross is featuring his show at NJPAC on Saturday, June 13 at 8PM, and then in association with Sun Song Productions, will bring “Invincible” to the Apollo Theater on Friday, June 19th at 7PM. The cast of over 40 persons, including LaVelle Smith, Jr., Michael Jackson‘s personal choreographer of 23 years, is in daily rehearsal attempting to make the show as authentic as possible.  “I feel honored to be in the show. I am working with the “Invincible” dancers to recreate the dances I did with Michael and even do some routines Michael hesitated to try.  Together Darrin and I have created a lot of new material, “remarked LaVelle who may spill over to the Apollo material not performed at NJPAC.

Impersonator Jeffrey Perez

Impersonators Pete Carter, Jeffrey Perez

Putting on a show filled with light-works, videos, dancers, singers, a gospel choir and impersonators, can be an expensive endeavor, therefore Darrin is always looking for people willing to sponsor the show who have creative vision.  Promoting the show always means on-line marketing, radio, print, TV and endorsements.  “We rely on MJ fans to spread the word. I am hoping to bring on incredible VIP guests in future as the show continues to grow.   I try to give total justice to MJ by bringing in the best impersonators I can get. Presently I have sound alike and look alike impersonators Pete Carter and Jeffrey Perez.  Joe Jackson saw videos of Invincible, loved it, and may eventually endorse the show.

"Invincible, the #1 MJ Tribute Show

“Invincible, the #1 MJ Tribute Show

For NJPAC tickets call the NJPAC box office at 888-466-5722. Call the Apollo B.O. at 212 531-5305. Tickets for both shows can be obtained via  VIP tickets offer purchasers best seats, a meet & greet with cast, photo with impersonators and a commemorative poster.  Together with promoters, Sun Song Productions , Darrin is planning a 20-city tour this year throughout September and November.  Next year a 50-city tour is planned.  For tour schedule see; on Facebook via Invincible: A Glorious Tribute to Michael Jackson; Twitter via @RossLiveMJ and on Instagram @Invincibleshow.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, LaVelle Smith studied at the Performing Arts School in Louisville.  Initially planning to be a ballet dancer he went into jazz dancing, then hip hop.  He worked with the likes of Jim Carey, Destiny’s Child, Diana Ross, The Rolling Stones,  Janet Jackson, Rihanna and Usher, et al.  His work with Beyonce on “Crazy in Love,” garnered him an MTV Award, one of 5 he’s earned.  “I met Michael when I auditioned for Smooth Criminal,” stated LaVelle Smith, Jr.  “I had worked with Janet on Rhythm Nation, so when Michael asked me my ideas, he liked them, and over time I became his choreographer.   Michael was fun to work with. He loved to laugh, share stories and tell jokes.  But he always got the job done.  Invincible brings back memories of working with MJ.  I feel every emotion in doing “Invincible” because it keeps Michael alive for me.  MJ “is” a loyal and honest person.  And, I say “is” because I still think of Michael as alive, though in spirit,” claimed the choreographer. “Michael Jackson was always about the heart.  I seek to instill that heart in the young “Invincible” dancers I choreograph.  I know if Mike were still here, he would say these dancers are doing it right.”

Journalist and radio host, Deardra Shuler, has a background in publishing, theatre, concert promotion, producing and was the former PR chairman of FESPACO, an African film festival in Burkino Faso. She reviews books, plays, theater and movies. Her short story was published by Penquin Books in Aurielle Ford’s book “Mystical Souvenirs.” Deardra has her own blog under Writblog and writes for several African American publications in New York.  Her show Topically Yours is on the Blakeradio Network, Rainbow Soul. She also produces and facilitates other radio programs that she has brought to the BlakeRadio network.

Laying on of the hands

People of Note: The Prophetesses of ‘Preach’

The Four Prophetess

The Four Prophetess

*The Lifetime Network approached me about their upcoming docu-series “Preach,” produced by Core Media Group and slated to air on the network Friday, June 5th at 10:00 pm, EST/PT. “Preach” features four women prophets called by God to do his work on earth.  These prophetesses are Belinda Scott, Taketa Williams, Linda Rourk and Kelly Crews.

Belinda Scott hails from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Belinda gives council to celebrities and politicians throughout the country and specializes in child birth and blessing the wombs of barren women.  She also has a protégé who grew up Muslim but converted to Christianity.

Linda Rourk is from Trenton, Ohio.  An evangelist, pastor, co-pastor and mother of two, she came into her prophesy ministry 15 years ago.  Rourk works with the homeless and the drug addicted, feeding the communities she works with both spiritually and physically.  She is known for her timid personality yet fiery style of preaching that gets her congregation to their feet.

Belinda Scott at the pulpit

Belinda Scott at the pulpit

From Columbus, Ohio, Taketa Williams is a prophetess, pastor, author, televangelist, wife, international speaker, revivalist, mother of 2, and someone who says she has been delegated and assigned by God to speak on God’s behalf on the earth.  According to Taketa God has given her an ability to gain insight regarding people’s past, present and even future and has commissioned her to help people deal with their problems in life.

And lastly, there is Kelly Crews from Cleveland.  Kelly is Belinda’s former protégé who is now building a ministry of her own.  She is the only single Prophetess in the group.  Being a prophetess requires sacrifice and meeting the kind of strong man who can handle her gift.

I had the opportunity to talk to two of the prophetesses, Taketa Williams and Linda Rourk who shared their calling, their gifts and how it affects their lives and the lives of those to whom they minister.

“I was a Church secretary over 20 years ago at that time my husband prophesied for me.  He said God told him that one day I would be prophesying to many people all over the world, including Hollywood.  At that time I was happy working my corporate job and being a part-time Church secretary.  However, I am now walking in the manifestation of what my husband prophesied for me.  It has not been an easy journey but God has appointed me to do what I have been called to do. And now a fire burns in me to preach,” said Taketa.

Laying on of the hands

Laying on of the hands

“22 years ago I was praying in my prayer closet, asking to understand what my mission in life was, then I heard an evangelist preach. There was such a power coming from her, I decided I wanted to possess that.  I knew I wasn’t living, only existing.  I started to pray and then the Lord spoke to me and validated that I too was called to preach,” explained Linda Rourk.  “Much of my work has been among the homeless and drug addicted.  There are people in my family who are addicted.  I feel privileged to be able to help people and to turn their lives around.   I did not go looking to be a prophet.  God chose me as a vessel to give his word.  I am called the Blue-eyed Soul sister.  Usually I am quiet and timid, but when God uses me the anointing comes on my life.  Jesus uses the prophetesses as a vessel.

Through my ministry, I use all 9 spiritual gifts: faith, knowledge, wisdom, laying-on-of-hands, interpretation, prophesy and healing, etc.  Sometimes when I lay my hands on people, people say they feel fire or heat, some fall out under the power of God.  Sometimes the Lord has me blow on people and I have blown on people.  All that I do, comes through God, I am merely a vessel.  The Bible says we should desire spiritual gifts but I did not desire the office of a prophetess because there is a price that comes with it.  The price may include a lot of loneliness, rejection, hurt and betrayal.  There are many sacrifices you have to make to follow the call.  It is not what I want to do but what I have been called and chosen to do for such a time as this.  My protégé, Angel Pound, had a rough start in life.  She danced the poles and was a former drug addict.  It has been hard for her but she has invited God into her life and I see how God is affecting her life,” explained Prophetess Rourk.

Feeling the Spirit

Feeling the Spirit

Having qualms initially about doing a reality show due to the stigma associated with them Taketa shunned the idea, telling her staff not to return the calls of Core Media Group.  However Lifetime was persistent and eventually Taketa listened to Lifetime’s vision for the show.

“We are not psychics.  Psychics see, but prophets see and resolve,” explained the prophetesses.

“Lifetime has been very respectful of our privacy and film around our schedules. Knowing the stigma associated with Reality shows, it caused me to initially shun the idea of anything of that magnitude but as I heard Lifetime’s vision of helping people find answers and deal with their problems, I recognized that is what I do as a prophetess.  My role as a prophetess is to help people meet life challenges and find a resolution. I thought “Preach” would be a good vehicle to reach out to others.  It is not like I want to be on TV.  I am already on two Christian networks.  My passion is to help others.    I want to be a go-between between the people and God,” said Taketa, who is also mentoring her protégée, Rebecca Hairston, a single mother with three children, who is turning her life around with the help of God and encouragement of Taketa.

There are six taped episodes of “Preach,” however the Lifetime Network hopes the series featuring the 4 prophetesses will entice viewers to want to see more episodes.

Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through,, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: [email protected].

Mint Condition

People of Note: Tony! Toni! Tone! R and B in Mint Condition

Mint Condition

Mint Condition

*I had the pleasure to speak with the leads in two R&B groups, bass guitarist Rick Kinchen of the talented Minneapolis R&B band, “Mint Condition” and one of the original members of “Tony! Toni! Tone,” vocalist, D’Wayne Wiggins.

Both groups burst onto the music scene in the late 1980s.

Mint Condition is known for their diverse R&B sound with elements of rock, funk, Latin, jazz stylings and Jamaican based rhythms.  They are also known for hits such as “Believe in Us,” “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes) that went Gold.  Their song “What Kind of Man Would I Be?” was so popular that it stayed on the Billboard R&B Charts for a total of 41 weeks. Mint Condition will appear at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday May 30, sharing the stage with platinum record winners Toni!Toni! Tone! known for their hitsAnniversary” and “It Never Rains (In Southern California).”

Rick told me how the band got together originally. “Everyone in the band was from St Paul General but me.  I was up from Chicago. I was playing with Kevin Jackson and he had Stoke on Drums and Larry on Keyboards.  They would invite other members like O’Dell to check me out.  They would say there is this guy whose spinning who wears a Gherri Curl.  They’d say, “…the grease from his hair is spraying everyone in the crowd.  They talked about me doing splits and wearing tight pants.  At first, they weren’t thinking of using me in the band because me and Kevin would get into it.  I came from the streets and needed to learn how to talk to people and deal with people in a respectful way.  I’ve grown a lot but I guess you could still refer to me as the pit bull of the group,” laughed the bass guitarist.

Other Mint Condition band members include Stokley Williams (vocals & drums), Homer O’Dell (guitar) Larry Waddel (keyboards), Jeff Allen (sax and keys) and Keri Lewis (guitar & keys) who left the band to produce his wife Toni Braxton and other artists.

“I grew up during a great time in music.  My older brothers had in their music collection bands like Parliament Funkadelic, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, War, Queen, Earth, Wind and Fire, Jimi Hendrix, Ohio Players, et al.  As band members we have listened to jazz and many styles of music that have influenced us as a band.  We also do ballads.  Everyone in the group writes songs.  Women inspire us so we write about them and other life experiences.  Everything I write is about something that has happened to me like dating or meeting women who may need some anger management.  This will be the new stuff from me.  In fact, Mint Condition is in the studio right now working on our stuff and on our first Mint Condition styled Christmas album.  So you can definitely look forward to hearing a Christmas album from us this year,” promised Rick who’s current Mint Condition album is “Move at the Speed of Light.’

Mint Condition toured with Prince who is also from the north side of Minneapolis. “He asked if he could come up on stage and play with us and of course we said “Sure, man.  Go ahead and play!” recalled Kinchen.  ‘We then did other shows with Prince in France and Belgium where he drew a huge crowd.  It was great working with him.  We are out on the road consistently, every weekend or every other weekend, so if folks want to catch up with us that can go to Twitter or Facebook or go on to find out what we are doing.

Tony! Toni! Tone!

Tony! Toni! Tone!

Family members TONY! TONI! TONÉ! came out of their Oakland, California neighborhood gangbusters with their album “WHO.”  “Who” went gold and spawned the #1 R&B hit “Little Walter.”  The group consists of brothers D’Wayne Wiggins (vocals & guitar), Raphael Saadig (lead vocals & bass) and their cousin Timothy Christian Riley (drums & keyboards), and another family member Amar Khalil who has been with the group since 1999.  The group’s first record also contained three additional R&B top ten hits: “Born Not to Know,” “For the Love of You” and “Baby Doll.” Their second album The Revival garnered platinum status with R&B hits “It Never Rains In Southern California,” “The Blues,” “Whatever You Want” and “Feels Good” which went Gold and won the ASCAP Award. The group won the Vocal Group of the Year NAACP Image Award and the American Music Award for Favorite R&B/Soul Group. Not to be outdone, their third record Sons of Soul went Double Platinum, charting at #3 (R&B).  It included the hits “Anniversary” (#2 R&B), “(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow” #4 R&B.

“The name Tony! Toni! Tone! happened to be the nickname of a roommate of mine.  We were joking around and created this image because we had a certain style of dress which we called Tony Toni Tone. We joked around with the Tony! Toni! Tone! thing long before we even started the band.  We used to jam at the house and did all these jam battles.  “Our song “Hey Little Walter” was our message to folks that if you did evil and bad things, those bad things come back to you one way or the other.  We always wanted our music to impart a message,” stated D’Wayne Wiggins.

“The group has a Non Profit in the Bay area that mentors young artists and kids via schools. Check out their nonprofit endeavors at  We are also interested in preserving rhythm and blues and passing it down authentically,” stated D’Wayne.

Fans looking forward to seeing Mint Condition and Tony! Toni! Tone! at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts (in The Bronx, NY) on May 30 at 8:00 p.m, can call 718-960-8833 for tickets or go on line at

Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through,, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: [email protected].

James Ross (Emmett) being warned by his mother, Mamie (Jasmine Saunise) about the segregated South.

People of Note: The Unforgettable Tragedy of Emmett Till

RLorenzo Jackson-James Ross

Emmett and his cousin, Maurice played by Lorenzo Jackson and James Ross

*The Castillo Theater, located at 543 West 42nd Street in Manhattan, is revisiting the story of Emmett Till via “Emmett Down In My Heart.”  Written by Clare Coss, and directed by Erica Gould, the story of Emmett Till is a tragic one that leaves a black eye on the rural town of Money, Mississippi, for all time.  After Jet Magazine ran the photo of Emmett Till and showed what killers Roy Bryant and J.W. Milliam, did to him, the world was scandalized.  It is forever printed within the annals of America as its great shame.

Ms. Coss’s play is told from the viewpoint of two main narrators, Roanne Taylor (Zoe Anastassiou) and Till’s Mother, Mamie Till, played by Jasmine Saunise.  Throughout the play, one of the major voices is of a young white teacher, Roanne Taylor. Taylor narrates her version of what went on the day that Emmett Till died.  She claims to be horrified but fears testifying.  Roanne seems to mirror the silent voice of the people of Money, Mississippi.

Zoe Anastassiou who plays the character Roanne Taylor and Jasmine Saunise who plays Mamie Till, Emmett's mother.

Zoe Anastassiou who plays the character Roanne Taylor and Jasmine Saunise who plays Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother.

Emmett Till (James Ross) is presented as a cleaver young man, who had a penchant for jokes and fun.  Raised in Chicago, Ill, Till was not subject to the racist Jim Crow Laws of the South.   Even though his mother Mamie warned him, Emmett did not grasp how severe these laws were,  even though shortly before visiting Money, Mississippi, where his uncle Mose (Cassagnol Leonidas, Jr.) lived, two men had been murdered trying to register black voters.

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old boy who in 1955 traveled to Money, MS, where he was brutally murdered.  It is an event that forever remains in the minds of African Americans.  It sent shock waves around the world.  No one thought Whites would go so far as to kill a child.   Emmett Till had barely turned 14, when he begged his mother to let him travel south to visit relatives.  Although concerned for his welfare his mother relied on her family to instruct Emmett about the ways of the South.  She did advise him to get off the sidewalk when a White passed and to keep his head down to avoid confrontation, not to speak and especially not speak to white women, who were known to get many a black man killed.  As the story goes, Till was teased by his cousins to go into the local store and buy bubblegum.  Supposedly they dared Emmett to whistle at Carolyn Bryant, who owned the store with her husband, Roy.  Bryant was a former beauty queen.  Other tales insinuate that Till carried photos of white women in his wallet.  It is said that while in the store Till bought bubble gum and whistled at Carolyn Bryant who ran for her gun.  His cousin claims Till did whistle but did not do what Carolyn testified at trial, Till did.  Emmett was known to stutter when pronouncing the letter “B.”

James Ross (Emmett) being warned by his mother, Mamie (Jasmine Saunise) about the segregated South.

James Ross (Emmett) being warned by his mother, Mamie (Jasmine Saunise) about the segregated South.

The play, “Emmett Down In My Heart” suggests that Carolyn Bryant was frightened by her abusive husband and was reticent about even telling Roy Bryant (Josh Berresford) about the incident.  In fact, it suggests that Maurice Wright, Till’s cousin (Lorenzo Jackson), was jealous of Emmett, therefore approached Roy Bryant and told him that Emmett whistled at Carolyn.  It’s suggested Maurice did this in order to get a 50 cent store credit.

The production’s poetic license aside, I feel compelled to share some known facts within police reports and FBI investigations.  I had the opportunity to interview filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, who made Emmett Till his life work. He spent several months with the Till family and those few witnesses brave enough to discuss the case.  Frankly, it wasn’t until 2012, that Maurice Wright, Till’s cousin, stepped forward to correct some of the lies and distortions put forth by the media who unable to get the scared Money, MS, population to talk about what happened, distorted facts. Below is an excerpt of Maurice Wright’s interview.  He began by describing the condition of Emmett Till’s body and talked about correcting some of the lies told.

The young Emmett Till before and after

The young Emmett Till before and after death.

“…Emmett’s wrists and legs were broken.  His eyes gouged out.  He was lynched, his head bashed in.  The crown of his skull came off when he was pulled from the river.  His tongue was cut out and shoved back into his mouth.  His teeth knocked out. Lies were spread about our family. My brother Maurice never accepted a 50-cent store credit to tell Milam and Bryant where Emmett was. There were no pictures in Emmett’s wallet of naked white women. My father was never sneaked out of Mississippi after the trial. That never happened. My father was upset he risked his life to testify at trial, but the verdict was not guilty.”  Also, the night Bryant and Millam kidnapped Emmett, they dragged him out of the bed and to a truck where a woman’s voice stated “He is the one who whistled at me.”  The family has always believed that woman was Carolyn Bryant and in all of these 48 years, there has never been evidence presented that proves otherwise.”

A 2014 interview by a former Klu Klux Klan member, Scott Shepherd, a friend of the Bryant family, conveyed the white town folks, as well as his parents, told Shepherd that Carolyn Bryant, was well known to wear short shorts and flirt with young men in the store, both black and white.  Everyone in the town knew it but never testified to this fact or even told authorities.  It was the town secret.  Thus, it seems while poetic license is always granted, recent witness testimonies and FBI investigations provide more accurate and current facts regarding the Till murder. Hopefully, the playwright will give some consideration to the new information provided above given the murder of Emmett Till remains one of the great tragedies of our time.

 “Emmett Down in My Heart,” is at the Castillo Theater until Sunday, May 17th.

Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through,, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: [email protected].

Kurtis Blow

People of Note: Kurtis Blow, Sugar Hill Gang and Other Old School Hip Hop Artists celebrate 38th Anniversary of Disco Fever

Old School Hip Hop Artists Celebrate 38th Anniversary of Disco Fever nightclub

Old School Hip Hop Artists Celebrate 38th Anniversary of Disco Fever nightclub

*With Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in association with Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records, sponsoring the 38th Anniversary of the famed Bronx nightclubDisco Fever” by presenting an Old School Hip Hop Fever Reunion Throw-Back Concert on Saturday, May 9, at 7:00 p.m., this writer had the occasion to talk to one of the original hip hoppers, Kurtis Blow.  Mr. Blow will be in good company sharing the stage with other hip hop artists such Rob Base, the Sugarhill Gang, Biz Markie, Grandmaster Melle Mel & Scorpio of the Furious Five, SoulSonic Force, Sweet G, Mc Shan, Fearless Four, T-Sky Valley, Spyder-D, Spoonie Gee, Busy Bee Starki, et al.  DJ Marley Marl, DJ Hollywood and DJ Brucie B will be there playing the beats with Dr. Bob Lee co-hosting.

“For those who are unaware of the club “Disco Fever,” it was the number one club in NYC from 1979-1985. I used to MC there on Tuesday with Grand Master Flash in the early days of my career. Disco Fever was a small club but the place to be.  Some of the early rap music was inspired or created out of that club.  I recall driving up to the club in my tour bus after doing a show to hang out,” remarked Kurtis Blow.

Kurtis Blow

Kurtis Blow

Through producer Sal Abbatiello (who inherited the “Disco Fever” club from his father), hip hop came alive. “Music wasn’t the only thing we did through the club. We did a lot of functions and benefits at Disco Fever for the Bronx community.  Fund raising events that raised money for the United Negro College Fund, putting up basketball courts and theme parks and opening up a roller skating rink.  Disco Fever did a lot of community service,” recalled Kurtis.

Kurtis explained the difference between Rap and Hip Hop.  “Hip hop is the umbrella and rap is part of the umbrella.  Hip hop is a way of life, a culture.  The culture represents the music people listen to, the way they walk and talk. It represents a fashion, religion, dance, art.  All of that is part of hip hop culture.  Hip hop is the general term of a way of life.  It is not only a business but has introduced elements of dance; rap, scratching, DJing, graffiti (art) and beeboying or break dancing, pop locking, and even a hip hop religion,” explained the originator of “If I Ruled the World.”

Hip hop was born in the early 1970s.  It was birthed out of the south Bronx and Harlem and spread throughout the five boroughs catching the world by storm.  It was around about 7 or 8 years before the first song came out in 1979, by King Tim III (Personality Jock) with Fatback band.  A major hit “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang came out in the summer of 1979 and blow hip hop music up. It was being played everywhere.  Run DC crossed it over to Pop, Blondie followed. Into the mid 80s, a whole slew of DJs and rappers have made hip hop the dynasty it is today.  “Today, hip hop is with the younger generation. It’s their world. The rap today is very witty, complicated, faster, and it’s a real challenge for an old schooler like me to keep up with the new styles of today. Even outside of US, people in other countries are rapping in their own language and have adapted rap to their own culture,” shared Blow.

Biz Markie

Biz Markie

Kurtis Blow was the first to sign with a major record company, Mercury records.  He put out the first rap song that went Gold.  “I was a college student who happened to be in the right place at the right time.   I was majoring in speech, broadcasting and communications, so I knew how to work the system. I worked the different departments of the label, including publicity, A&R, and the video department.  I worked the publicity and promotions department which allowed for major press.  In 1980, I traveled internationally as the first rap artist to do so.  The label had set up press conferences in each city with radio stations, newspapers, etc.  I did the first hip hop national commercial.  I was the first hip hop artist to tour across the US and Europe.  I felt like I was in a dream world designed by God.  It was the best time in my life,” recalled the hip hop artist who has released over 15 albums and as a producer was behind the hits of The Fat Boys, Run DMC, Full Force, Russell Simmons and Wyclef Jean.

The first major song Kurtis did for Mercury Records was Christmas Rappin.  “I did over 150 songs, but Christmas Rappin is my favorite song.  That was the idea of JB Moore.  Moore  and Robert Ford were my producers for my first 5 albums.  JB came up with the idea of “Christmas Rappin” since he felt a Christmas song could be played every Christmas and that was what happened.  The song was about Santa Clause visiting a house in Harlem and partying,” chuckled Kurtis, whose biggest seller was “The Breaks.”

“The Breaks” was the first certified Gold rap song in the history of hip hop.  It was the second certified Gold “12 inch” in the history of music.

Kurtis has a very busy schedule.  He is constantly working and is also a minister.  Interested parties can find him via Kurtis Blow Walker onTwitter @Kurtisblow1 or via Instagram where he posts his performance schedule. Readers can also check out my radio show with him via–kurtis-blow.

For tickets for the May 9th Fever Reunion call the Lehman Center Box Office at 718-960-8833 or go online at

Ms. Shuler is the former Editor and Managing Editor of three New York City minority newspapers. Presently, she is the Entertainment Editor of The Black Star News. As a freelance writer she writes for several New York City newspapers; including the Examiner, Amsterdam News and EURweb.  She is the former PR chairman for the FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa, and is presently program manager for where she also hosts her own show “Topically Yours.”

Judy Torres

People of Note: Judy Torres, Sugar Hill Gang & Others Part of ‘Forever Freestyle 9′ at Lehman Center

Judy Torres

Judy Torres

*Producer Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records is once again bringing Latin freestyle music to the stage via his “Forever Freestyle 9″ show which takes place in the Bronx, at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, on Saturday, March 7th at 8:00 p.m.

Tickets for the popular show go quickly so fans should get to the box office before the show is sold out. Featured this year, will be Latin freestyle artists: TKA/K7, Judy Torres, The Cover Girls, Noel, Lisette Melendez, Rob Base, Soave, Coro, Nocerra, George Lamond, and Sugar Hill Gang.

Also featured is Lucho, DJ Solo and The Whiteboy DJ KYS. Hosts for the show are Speedy and producer Sal Abbatiello.

The Queen of Freestyle, Judy Torres, took the time on a 27 degree winter day to chat with me.

“The Freestyle show is always lots of fun. The Bronx fans come out at Lehman Center, and performing with my fellow artists always feels like we are getting together for an annual party. There is nothing like performing in the Bronx. I was born in the Bronx and lived there until I was 25. I had some of my best and worst memories there,” said the singer who attended St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic school then eventually went on to Lehman College.

Ms. Torres reflected on the early days of her career.

“I was obsessed about being a singer and I kept wondering why I hadn’t been discovered. I was a teenager but I performed in talent shows and occasionally in night clubs around my area, impatiently hoping someone would discover me. I was doing a gong show in a tiny club where the singers were supposed to sing badly but they all sang well. So, I decided to sing like Edith Bunker of the show All In the Family. A judge attempted to gong me but I was joking and the audience got that, so (they) stopped him. After the show that same judge approached me stating he wanted to help me. He told me to give him 6 months to get me a paid gig. He advised me I needed original songs, so he introduced me to Micky Garcia who needed his songs recorded. I was given a song entitled Loves Going to Get You.

“One day, at an audition, I met a singer who didn’t like her song which was ‘No Reason to Cry.’ I loved that song and she loved my song, so we switched songs. It took awhile for ‘No Reason to Cry’ to pick up momentum because it wasn’t on the radio but eventually I signed with an independent label and then the song got air play. ‘No Reason to Cry’ became my first hit single. I was 18. Later I went with Profile Records where I rerecorded ‘No Reason to Cry’ under a different mix and sound. I recorded another single called ‘Come into My Arms,’ which did better than No Reason to Cry.”

Torres also recorded “Faithfully” which became a number one hit.

“My career picked up. Bills got paid and I was able to help family,” said Judy recalling the excitement she felt when her song hit.

Cover Girls

Cover Girls

“Many artists have sung, and written songs, that have impacted their lives. “Each song I sing has significance for me,” claimed the freestyle singer.

“Come into My Arms” meant something to me because I co-wrote it and wrote it about someone who broke my heart. My mother told me to use music to help me feel better. I’ve noted that when going through some kind of angst, I write my best material. I think that is when I’m fully present in my feelings,” remarked Judy who in her free time goes into schools to talk with young people about self esteem and the damage caused by bullying. “I also do some acting when I am not singing and have recently started teaching Zumba classes in New Jersey,” mentioned the busy artist.

Ms. Torres recently married in October 2014 and now has a step daughter.

“Marriage has been an adjustment but I love it. My step daughter is a wonderful girl and I love being a mother. I now have a family I didn’t think I was going to have,” remarked Torres who still hosts a show on WKTU from 3:00 to 8:00 pm on Sundays. Formerly her show featured mostly freestyle music but the station has since changed their format to top 40s.

Judy recorded a song in 2010 entitled “Stay” originally a county song told from the perspective of the other woman.


Freestyle is at the heart of Judy’s recordings and she is grateful to Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records for keeping Freestyle music alive.

“Although Freestyle has unfortunately left the radio waves for the most part, it has a devoted fan base. Therefore, Sal who was instrumental in creating the freestyle movement, has kept it alive by providing the venues where and singers who, fans can support via his Freestyle shows. So, whenever Sal calls I am there and enjoy being part of it. I believe I speak for all the freestyle artists when I say that we are grateful for our devoted fans,” said Judy earnestly.

Ms Torres will be part of the Freestyle Forever 9 at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 7th at 8:00 pm. Lehman Center is located at 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West in the Bronx where interested parties can get tickets at the Lehman Center Box Office by calling 718-960-8833 or by going on line at Lehman Center is accessible by #4 or D train to Bedford Park Blvd. and is off the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Major Deegan Expressway.  Parking is $5.

Deardra Shuler is a well published journalist who has profiled celebrities and written about people of note for many years. In addition to her column at, she is the host of her radio show “Topically Yours” on Interested parties can acquire info regarding Deardra through, Linked In,, Facebook and Google. Contact her via: [email protected].